The work-life juggle – why it’s ok not to “Be Perfect”

Preparing for group coaching sessions makes me stop and think. It makes me reflect on my experience and what’s helped me, and how I can share.

I recently led a #worklifebalance workshop at Nationwide Building Society’s Women in Technology event. This was attended by over 200 women, many of whom were returning to work after maternity leave. Juggling career and motherhood certainly isn’t a new topic! I know first-hand, and from those I coach, how challenging this can be.

My drive to “Be Perfect” was unhelpful when my boys were young. The psychologist Kahler identified five drivers that motivate us, one of which is #BePerfect. Each of the five drivers have positive merits but can have drawbacks when we’re stressed and go into overdrive.

Some of the benefits of “Be Perfect” are:

High standards
Attention to detail
Being well organised
Taking responsibility

Some of the drawbacks of “Be Perfect” are:

Being overly self-critical
Difficulty delegating and trusting others
Losing the big picture
Becoming single minded
My experience isn’t unique. Through my coaching work I’ve realised having unrealistic expectations that are limiting and get in the way is a familiar feeling and experience for many mums as they return to work and manage their work-life juggle.

Two insights helped me change my attitude to perfectionism.

It started with a lightbulb moment when my boys were young. Before this I’d considered perfectionism an attribute and something to be proud of. And in many ways it had been helpful during the first phase of my career when I could be more single minded and focussed and worked incredibly long hours.

I was studying for a Psychology degree with the OU. One of the degree modules was Child Development. I still remember the impact of being introduced to the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott and his concept of the good enough mother. The idea that good enough was good enough was novel, enabling and liberating. I became kinder to myself and those around me. I didn’t need to keep running myself ragged trying to live up to some ideal. My self talk changed from “I should be able to do it all” to “good enough is fine”. I still had my perfectionist tendencies but I’d found a way of managing them and bringing them under control – most of the time – as I juggled the demands of home and career.

Some years later I found the work of the researcher and author Brene Brown inspiring.

In Daring Greatly Brene writes about herself as a ‘recovering perfectionist and aspiring good enough-ist’. This is me! She describes perfectionism as a self-destructive and addictive belief system. For women there’s also the cultural expectation to be perfect – and to look like it takes no effort to be perfect. This helped me understand why it was so hard to let go of my perfectionism – even with more self-awareness and catching myself when I’ve set unrealistic expectations.

The good news is there’s an antidote to “Be Perfect”.

It’s about being ok with good enough. Good enough means we’re balancing a rich and full life. It means being realistic and recognising mistakes come with learning and growing. Be good enough with pride!

Alison Green is a proud mother of two, senior marketing executive in the creative and health care sectors, and past member of Axa UK Diversity and
Inclusion Board. Alison is an Accredited Executive Coach with Ashridge Business School, and a Director at WOMBA, and is passionate about helping clients realise their potential.